Connect with top gaming leaders in Los Angeles at GamesBeat Summit 2023 this May 22-23. Register here.
The Believer Company, founded by game veterans from Riot Games and other companies, has raised $55 million to create a new game studio in Los Angeles.
That’s a huge amount for a brand-new studio with just 12 people, but it’s also a testament to the background of the founders. CEO Michael Chow is a former Riot Games veteran who served as executive producer of League of Legends: Wild Rift, and he was also cofounder of Words With Friends developer Newtoy.
Chow is joined by cofounder Steven Snow, chief product officer. Snow was a founding member of Riot Games and he helped build the studio’s player-focused culture and was the executive producer of League of Legends. Snow had retired a while back and came back to cofound The Believer Company. But Chow talked him into joining the ambitious new project.
“This is the best team in games. And I think that part of what happened was that we got some of the world’s best investors and then the more that snowballed,” Chow said. “And then the dream is very powerful. It’s we’re not trying to do just another thing. We’re trying to do something pretty big and dreamy. A great open world game will change the world.”
GamesBeat Summit 2023
Join the GamesBeat community in Los Angeles this May 22-23. You’ll hear from the brightest minds within the gaming industry to share their updates on the latest developments.
They aren’t announcing the game yet. The goal is to build a world-class, remote-first team to deliver a next-generation open-world game, anchored by an original intellectual property. Snow said the game would have stories where player choices matter, and gameplay systems that bring players together rather than pushing them apart.
“Players are the best audience to serve in the world. They’re noble, smart, discerning, and infinitely inventive,” said Chow. “We hold their investments of time, skill, and hard-earned money as sacred, and we will always put their needs first at every stage of Believer’s journey. We look forward to growing our team with people as passionate as we are and we are actively seeking like-minded talent to believe with us.”
“I couldn’t be more excited to begin this journey with Steven,” Chow added. “He’s a loving, stalwart champion of players—at times viciously protective of their best interests. There’s no better flag-bearer for what we’re setting out to do.”
Lots of money
Lightspeed Venture Partners, which has $7 billion under management, led the round.
“The team already assembled at Believer stands ready to change the industry through an unyielding devotion to players,” said Moritz Baier-Lentz, a partner at Lightspeed Venture Partners, who is joining Believer’s board, in a statement. “Forget preconceived notions about building, selling, and marketing franchises atop $70 entry fees and strictly authored, immovable stories. As a lifelong player and ‘believer’ myself who’s followed and admired the studio’s founders’ work for years, I know Michael, Snow, and their incredible team will make the next big thing by doing the right thing, at every turn. I’m inspired by their vision and honored to help make it possible.”
Andreesen Horowitz (A16z), which has a $600 million game fund, also joined the round.
“When Michael, Snow, and their fellow founders at Believer speak about what’s next for video games, the industry stops and listens.” said Andrew Chen, general partner at A16z, in a statement. “Time and time again, through both innovative use of new technology and subversive design principles, they’ve defied convention and realized ambitions other developers hadn’t dreamed yet. We’re proud to join them at this moment in history and empower them to find the creativity in nascent technology.”
Other investors include Bitkraft Ventures, Riot Games, 1Up Ventures, Don Thompson’s Cleveland Avenue, Michael Eisner’s Tornante Company, and other venture partners.
Snow retired from Riot Games in 2019 after a good run. Chow called him in October 2021. They talked about making a game that they had dreamed about with cool ways to engage players. Snow said there are a lot of rich opportunities in in open world genres where you can breathe new life into gaming.
Chow played through The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt a couple of times.
“You only do that if you have like this really extreme love for these IPs,” Snow said. “What we’re really focused on is trying to make sure that we can broaden the space. We also have a flavor of the world that we’re excited to talk about in the future.”
He added, “Snow is the original creator of League of Legends. He’s the executive producer who launched League of Legends during its seminal years. I represent the other side of the bookend, which is helping League of Legends grow into a post-platform future.”
Snow said he has stayed in the background and so he doesn’t really think he has fans. As for making a multiplayer online battle arena game, Snow said, “We’ve kind of already been there.”
They were able to bring Riot Games on as an investor, but they believe players have been waiting for an open-world game in the League of Legends universe for a long time. The frustration with not being able to deliver that to players is one of the reasons they’re doing this independently, Chow said.
“I think that players have the expectation that a world-class IP, like League of Legends, really does deserve to be inhabited as a world that you can share with your friends. And right now, there’s no version of that, but they have been asking for it for years,” Chow said.
“The last few years have brought forward some very exciting technologies. In our world, where the player is the focus, our goal is to bring select technologies into the development and gameplay spaces explicitly for the betterment of our players and the games they love,” Snow said. “Bringing free-to-play to North America and Europe with League of Legends really changed the landscape of how games as a service could work. It is our privilege to have the opportunity to help shape the future responsibly. And we are excited to say ‘no fucking thanks’ to the technologies that won’t make the game more fun.”
The team’s motto
Chow and Snow are joined by CTO Landon McDowell (Microsoft, Riot Games, Linden Lab); chief creative officer Jeremy Vanhoozer (Bungie, Electronic Arts); COO Tim Hsu (Twitter, Riot Games); CMO Shankar Gupta-Harrison (Riot Games, Dentsu X); director of operations Grace Park (League of Legends: Wild Rift); and vice president of design Jeff Jew (League of Legends, Legends of Runeterra).
Their founding motto—Credo In Ludos, or, “I believe in games”—underscores their commitment to making and playing games as a lifelong calling and not merely a business.
“We love this team. We love the mission that we’re on. It’s been a very wonderful experience. I think the round points to a lot of the potential. We are a very player-obsessed company,” Chow said. “We believe players are the best audience in the world to serve. And we’re eager to be able to do that for them in a way that delivers what we call next-generation value, stuff that players have never seen before.”
Believer is further supported by several strategic partners and advisers who have pushed the boundaries of popular culture, technology, and interactive art, including entertainment and media industry leader Michael D. Eisner, former McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson, and Microsoft CTO Kevin Scott. Maureen Fan, CEO of Baobab, is also an adviser.
“Truly great content franchises are not built with a single media type—they need to resonate with their audience across games, film, television, collectibles, and real-world interactive experiences,” said Eisner, in a statement. “The Believer Company gets that, and we at Tornante are excited to advise them as they bring their vision to life across every platform.”
Game developers, prospective hires, and devotees of the player experience are invited to get in touch with Believer at believer.gg. The goal is to hit 50 people by the end of the year, Chow said. The company wants to hire a lot of good people, and that’s the primary reason for the announcement.
As for the size of the round during a big downturn, Chow said, “Extraordinary teams on extraordinary missions are always worth it, despite the global economic conditions.”
Snow said the company’s aspiration is to create a “marathon that lasts for decades.” He believes the funding round is the starting gun, not a destination in itself.
As for the funding led by Lightspeed, Chow said, “Lightspeed has this incredible conviction about a bold vision for the future, and they just want to really swing hard at it. There were a really phenomenal fit.”
Snow said that he is not excited about making a traditional game with a small funding round. He and Chow wanted to do a big game, and they also wanted to raise a lot of the money upfront, so they wouldn’t have to keep going back to investors. Part of the reason is there could be economic softness coming, and the money may not be available in the future.
The company believes its mission is to be a next-generation entertainment company, and it believes that is why the investors were so excited, Chow said. That helped increase the round size a couple of times.
“An important part of the vision of Believer is not just a being games company, but a broader entertainment company that wants to drive holistic experiences around our games,” Chow said.
GamesBeat's creed when covering the game industry is "where passion meets business." What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you -- not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it. Discover our Briefings.